We sat down with Special Education Advocate Susana Ramirez. For the past 16 years, she’s been with Disability Rights Oregon. She conducts trainings for Spanish speaking parents about special education and the rights of children with disabilities.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
My core identity is as a ballerina, though most people don’t know me as a ballerina. I grew up in Mexico City until I left at age twenty- one. I am a mom of three sons, a human rights advocate, and a practicing Buddhist.
Q: How long have you worked at Disability Rights Oregon?
I began working at Disability Rights Oregon in August 2001 – so this year will be 16 years from that first day. I still remember being so excited and having butterflies in my stomach – very similar feeling as before I did a ballet performance.
Q: Why did you become involved with the disability rights movement?
My son Kevin, who experiences autism, is the reason why disability is part of my life and my work. He is the inspiration that propelled me to be the best advocate I could be each day for children with disabilities.
Q: Can you tell us about Parents in Action? What are their goals?
Parents in Action/Padres en Acción is a non-profit advocacy organization. My son Kevin is the reason this organization exists.
As a mom of a child with a disability and an immigrant woman, the barriers that one experiences can feel insurmountable, especially while advocating for our children.
The main goal of Parents in Action/Padres en Acción is to teach parents how to advocate for their rights and their children’s rights and support them in their development as advocate leaders in their communities.
Q: Can you tell us about the education rights training that you conduct?
I conduct education rights in English and Spanish. The main message I give parents when I conduct education rights is not only related to special education law and practical tools they can use.
These trainings are an opportunity to make parents believers that no matter how much formal education they have had or not, whatever their circumstance at this very moment, they too can become the best advocates of their children. And it doesn’t matter if I am talking to immigrant parents or not, their fears and their hopes are the same. It is a universal and human need to protect and provide for our children.
Q: What differences have you seen between rural areas and the cities our state?
I have definitely seen the isolation of many parents in rural areas. Over the years, I have become more concerned with lack of resources in these communities because I don’t see a marked improvement in terms of infrastructure development and resources parents should be able to access easily.
Q: You’ve remarked that parents the best advocates of their kids. Can you explain what you meant?
As a parent, I know that no one is more vested in my children’s well-being, education and future than I am.
Parents are the experts of their children. Therefore, they can become their best advocate.
As I say to parents when I conduct trainings: the professionals in your child’s life are only guests for a while – they come and go, but you the parent will be by their side and will love them until the last day we are in this world.
Q: You’ve served on the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities between 2011-2015?
The Committee advises the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services through an annual report.
The report is intended to promote policies and initiatives that will positively impact the quality of life of individuals with intellectual disabilities – and enable them to live truly inclusive in every aspect of community and civic life.
Q: What’s the one thing that you wish everyone knew about education rights?
That education rights are human rights and everyone has the right to an education that will give them the tools to reach their goals and dreams.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Teaching parents the tools to become independent thinkers, empowered, and self-determined when advocating in the disability system and the community at large.
Short video of Susana (For captions, click on CC):